#SaltonSea is focus of IID’s legal challenge to #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

American Avocets in the Salton Sea. Photo: David Tipling/NPL/Minden Pictures. Screen shot American Audobon Society western water website, October 4, 2017.

Here’s the release from the Imperial Irrigation District:

On the same day President Trump signed the Drought Contingency Plan into law, Imperial Irrigation District filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The petition calls on the court to suspend approvals and actions related to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until such time that an appropriate CEQA analysis and process has been completed.

“The logic in going forward without IID was that the DCP couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” said Henry Martinez, IID general manager. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along – at the Salton Sea.”

IID’s petition alleges that MWD violated CEQA principles by committing to enter into agreements, on behalf of itself and all other California contractors, which will require MWD to forgo diverting up to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River without considering how it will make up the shortfall.

“Metropolitan engaged in a prejudicial abuse of discretion and failed to proceed in the manner required by law,” wrongly determining that the DCP approvals were exempt from environmental laws, the suit continues.

CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

Without IID’s participation, the Bureau of Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed the DCP on March 19.

While IID worked to be a partner in the DCP process, the district objected, citing environmental issues posed at the Salton Sea and lack of federal funding commitments for the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan.

The district maintains that the Salton Sea is an integral part of the Colorado River system and its decline presents a severe public health and environmental crisis for the Imperial and Coachella valleys and the state.

IID has pointed out that MWD’s obligation to the river, under this DCP, could be over 2 million acre-feet.

“As long as IID was part of the DCP, the Salton Sea would have been insulated from impacts because IID could have protected it,” said IID board president Erik Ortega. “But under this DCP, particularly now that MWD is calling the shots for California and acting on behalf of the rest of the Colorado River, the Salton Sea is truly on its own. That’s why IID is acting to preserve its rights – and the Salton Sea’s future – by filing this CEQA challenge.”

Click here to view IID’s Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate.

National Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Commend Federal Passage of #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Low flows on the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon. Flows on the Colorado have always risen and fallen seasonally, but water managers in the west now firmly see a future with less water overall to work with.

From Western Resource Advocates (Jamie Trafficanda):

Today, President Trump signed a law authorizing a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) to protect the Colorado River, following the bill’s passage through Congress with bipartisan support. The law, which follows years of negotiations and effort among the seven Colorado River basin states, will allow for voluntary, proactive conservation measures to take effect and bolster water levels in Lake Mead.

In response to the news, leading national conservation and sportsmen organizations issued the following statements:

“This is a historic moment for the Colorado River, the West, and the entire country,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director for the Colorado River Program at Environmental Defense Fund. “Passing the DCP sets in place a foundation for conservation that will ensure a more secure future for the American Southwest. Now comes the hard work of implementing the DCP in each state. We look forward to continuing to partner with the basin states, farmers, cities, water agencies, tribes and businesses to drive implementation forward.”

“Not only did DCP pass–it did so with strong bipartisan support,” said Scott Yates, Director of Western Water and Habitat Program at Trout Unlimited, “Building that consensus took years of effort from advocates, water agencies, tribes and other stakeholders. That process is a model for conservation across the country.”

“Today marks a huge step forward for the Colorado River and hunters and anglers, but our challenges are far from over,” said Melinda Kassen, Senior Counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “Faced with an increasingly arid climate in the West, it’s critical that we move forward to implement the Drought Contingency Plan without delay and build upon the foundation it provides.”

“I’m thankful to all parties involved who pushed for the successful passage of this bill. We will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders during DCP implementation, as we also work to improve conditions at the Salton Sea,” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, “This is a historic day for the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River, as well as the 400 bird species and other wildlife.”

“Moving the needle to conserve the Colorado River has required patient compromise and dedication,” said Matt Rice, Colorado Basin Director at American Rivers, “Leaders from each of the seven basin states set aside their differences and came together to do the hard work. These leaders and our representatives in Congress, deserve credit for working together to get DCP done.”

“Our economy, our ecosystems and our communities all rely on the Colorado River,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program Director at The Nature Conservancy, “Today marks a critical milestone in managing the River in a more sustainable way to benefit many diverse stakeholders and interests, who all set aside their differences and worked toward their shared interest in the health of the River.”

“As the West faces a growing gap between the water we need and declining supply, we have to be ready to work together to make every drop count,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, President at Western Resource Advocates. “That’s exactly what happened with the Drought Contingency Plan, a state-driven solution that shows we can address big water challenges when the West speaks with a unified voice. There’s still much work left to be done, but this is a true accomplishment that will help improve how water is managed in the region.”

Statement by @USBR Commissioner Brenda Burman on the @POTUS signing law authorizing #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plans #COriver #aridification

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Michael England):

Today, [the President] took a historic step to reduce risk on the Colorado River by signing bipartisan legislation authorizing the Department of the Interior to implement Drought Contingency Plans in the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River. This action supports agriculture and protects the water supplies for 40 million people.

The Colorado River is the single most important water resource in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. All levels of government stepped up to address the Basin’s worst drought in recorded history. We’ve seen collaborative efforts among the seven Basin states, local water agencies, Tribes, Mexico and the Department of the Interior. Congress took prompt action on implementing legislation for the Drought Contingency Plans, and the President acted swiftly to sign that legislation into law. Adopting consensus-based DCPs is the best path toward safeguarding this critical water supply.

From The Arizona Republic (Andrew Nicla):

The president’s signing capped a years-long process of sometimes difficult negotiations among the seven states that rely on the river. Trump announced his approval of the bill in a tweet, calling it a “big deal” for Arizona…

…[the] signing comes just over a week after Congress fast-tracked bills through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., led those efforts and introduced identical bills endorsing the plan.

While Trump congratulated McSally, it was Grijalva’s version the president signed. That wasn’t a problem for McSally, who had said previously she supported the fastest path to approve the bill…

The one-page measure [the President] signed was not the drought plan itself, but legislation that allows the Bureau of Reclamation to carry out the plan. Next, representatives from Arizona and the other Colorado River basin states who had a hand in crafting the deal are expected to meet for a formal signing ceremony. The details haven’t been announced yet.

The plan they will sign aims to spread the effects of expected cutbacks to the river and protect the levels of the Colorado’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Brenda Burman, the reclamation commissioner, kept state water leaders and lawmakers in check with several strict deadlines, some of which were not met. Despite the pace, Burman said Tuesday in a statement that Trump’s action and the signing of such a landmark water deal was a historic step for the Southwest’s water future…

This aims to protect water users from losses and prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from falling to critical lows. Lake Powell is 37 percent full, while Lake Mead is 41 percent full, just above a threshold that would trigger a first-ever declaration of a shortage by the federal government.

The three-state lower basin agreement, negotiated among California, Arizona and Nevada, lays out a framework for taking less water from Lake Mead and sharing in cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passes through #Congress #COriver #aridification #DCP

Hoover Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president.

The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.

Once the bill is signed, and the Drought Contingency Plan enacted, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said it will have long-term benefits for water users in New Mexico, including tribes and farmers, cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque and ecosystems and wildlife…

Over the past years, the [Upper and Lower] basins worked on developing their own drought plans and then came together in a final agreement aimed at ensuring people still receive water, even as flows decline, and making sure Glen Canyon Dam can still generate hydropower and deliver electricity. It’s also meant to make sure water levels don’t drop too low in Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Combined storage in the two reservoirs last year reached its lowest level since Lake Powell began filling in the 1960s. As of April 10, Lake Powell’s level was at 3,569 feet, roughly 37 percent full.

In 2017, a study showed that between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average. Models showed that warming will continue to drive declines in river flows—by between 20 percent to 30 percent by mid-century and 35 percent to 55 percent by 2100. More recently, authors from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that 53 percent of the decrease in runoff is attributable to warming; the rest to reduced snowfall within regions that feed into the system.

This winter’s snowpack is anticipated to stave off an emergency.Current forecasts estimate Lake Powell will be at about 3,592 feet, with about 12.89 million acre feet of stored water (and 55 percent full), at the end of this water year.

NM has learned lessons from drought

Under the Colorado River Compact, New Mexico is allowed 11.25 percent of the Upper Basin’s annual allocation of 7.5 million acre feet.

New Mexico’s share of the Colorado River water is relatively small. On average, New Mexico uses about 410,000 acre feet of water from the basin. Arizona and California, meanwhile, each use millions of acre feet annually.

In New Mexico, cities like Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield rely on water from the San Juan and its tributary, the Animas River, as do local ranchers and farmers. The San Juan supplies water to cities to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District via the San Juan-Chama Project. And during last year’s low flows on the Rio Grande, it was water from the San Juan-Chama Project that kept the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque. Both the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is still being built, rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. The Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico has rights to Colorado River water, as well.

Rolf Schmidt Peterson, Colorado River Basin Manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, explained that as opposed to the Lower Basin states—which are already using all the water they have rights to, and more—New Mexico and other Upper Basin states were in a better position to come up with their drought contingency plan.

The Lower Basin will have to pull back on uses, whereas the Upper Basin can plan ahead on how to avoid water shortages.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plans enabling legislation a win for #Colorado — @SenatorBennet @SenCoryGardner #COriver #DCP #aridification

Both science and science fiction say the future is going to be hotter, drier and dustier, and this silt-fall in upper Lake Powell in September 2018 captures the trend. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Fort Morgan Times (Brian Porter):

Once signed into law, the legislation will authorize the implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan agreements forged between the seven Colorado River Basin states and Native American tribes.

“Tens of millions of people in the western United States rely on the Colorado River to provide water for agricultural, municipal, and consumptive use, as well as support for our growing recreation economy,” Gardner said.

The Drought Contingency Plan enjoys widespread support in Colorado, including from the state and multiple Front Range and Western Slope water utilities.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of our economy, but in recent years we’ve experienced some of the worst drought conditions in centuries,” Bennet said. “Passing the Drought Contingency Plan is a win for the millions of people across the West who rely on the Colorado River.”

[…]

“Following the leadership of Coloradans and communities across the seven affected states, we are now one step closer to countering drought, addressing climate change, and strengthening Colorado’s agricultural and outdoor recreation-based economy,” Bennet said.

Statement by @USBR Commissioner Brenda Burman on historic legislation to implement #Drought Contingency Plans #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

The Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Theresa Eisenman):

I’m pleased that collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, local water agencies, Tribes, non-governmental organizations, Mexico and the Department of the Interior to reduce risk on the Colorado River are succeeding. I applaud Congress for taking prompt action on implementing legislation for the Drought Contingency Plans. This brings us one step closer to supporting agriculture and protecting the water supplies for 40 million people in the United States and Mexico. Working together remains the best approach for all those who rely on the Colorado River.

Hoover Dam. Photo credit: Air Wolfhound Flickr Creative Commons

From The Arizona Star (Tony Davis):

Legislation for the drought contingency plan aimed at propping up Lakes Mead and Powell unanimously cleared the House and Senate Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The bill now heads to President Trump for his signature.

The plan calls on the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada to conserve up to 1.2 million acre-feet of the 7.5 million acre-feet to which they have a right between now and 2026. The cuts will kick in at small amounts almost immediately and will escalate when Lake Mead drops low enough.

Arizona, whose $4 billion Central Arizona Project will take the first cuts during a Colorado River shortage, would lose 192,000 acre-feet of CAP water at first. (One acre-foot is enough water to serve four Tucson households for a year.)

When Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet, which could happen by 2021, the CAP would lose nearly one-third of its supply, or 500,000 acre-feet. When Mead hits 1,025 feet, the CAP would lose more than 700,000 acre-feet.

The plan is aimed at delaying the time when the two reservoirs will drop so low that it will be difficult or impossible to get water and electric power from them.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Tucson Democrat whose bill is the one headed to the White House, praised its passage but warned in an interview that it’s only an interim step.

The seven Colorado River basin states must soon start work on revising guidelines for managing the river that were approved in 2007 and expire in 2026…

This was “a remarkable chapter in the long story of securing Arizona’s water supplies,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

In congressional testimony last month, Buschatzke acknowledged the plan isn’t a permanent solution: “We recognize that more must be done by the states to prepare for a drier future.”

#ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plan (#DCP) enabling legislation passes #Congress #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Here’s the release from Representative Raúl M. Grijalva’s office (Adam Sarvana):

Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today hailed House passage of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, which he introduced April 2. Thanks to Grijalva’s leadership, the House approved the bill – formally designated H.R. 2030 – by a voice vote, expediting passage and avoiding procedural hurdles to get the bill closer to President Trump’s desk as fast as possible.

During a related debate in the Senate this afternoon, it was agreed that as soon as Grijalva’s bill is transmitted to the Senate, it will be considered approved and will be sent directly to the White House.

Grijalva’s widely endorsed bill, which received unanimous praise from Colorado River basin states, tribes and other stakeholders, implements the Drought Contingency Plan, a water-sharing agreement between Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, California, New Mexico and Nevada that accounts for ongoing water shortages and regional climate change throughout the Southwest.

The Arizona Republic praised Grijalva’s leadership in advancing the bill last week, noting his intention to have the Natural Resources Committee serve as a public resource for data and research as the agreement is implemented and underscoring his commitment to widening the policy conversation beyond state-level representatives as the agreement is put in place.

The agreement establishes new water conservation measures to protect reservoir levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, using voluntary water reductions and innovative management strategies to avoid historic lows in Colorado River reservoirs, which would trigger dramatic water delivery cuts to the seven states.

In addition to each state, Grijalva’s bill enjoyed support from tribes throughout the region and from an alliance of conservation groups, who wrote a joint April 1 letter urging congressional approval. More information about the extraordinary network of support for Grijalva’s bill is available athttp://bit.ly/2G9bT2U.

Chair Grijalva’s video statement hailing today’s passage of the bill is available at https://twitter.com/NRDems/status/1115377188482818051. Video of the entire House discussion of Grijalva’s bill is available at http://bit.ly/2IqHleN. Both videos are public and available for repurposing.

From Arizona Central (Andrew Nicla):

A bill that would authorize the federal government to enact a drought plan for Colorado River basin states in times of shortage has passed Congress and is on its way to the White House for the president’s signature…

When enacted, the plan will spread the effects of expected cutbacks on the river and protect the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the river’s two largest reservoirs. Its aim is to protect water users from deep losses and keep the reservoirs and river healthy.

“The Colorado River is dissipating,” Grijalva told The Arizona Republic.

“There’s more demand from people and industries that depend on it. So how do we do that for the long-term? That’s the task ahead,” he said…

The drought plan is a short-term fix to stave off the most immediate effects of a 19-year drought that continues to threaten parts of the Southwest. Once the bill is signed by [the President], representatives of the seven river states are expected to meet again to finalize the deal.

From the Congressional Western Caucus:

Members of the Western Caucus released statements applauding the bipartisan passage of H.R. 2030, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act:

Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04): “I applaud Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke for all their hard work and leadership in bringing the Drought Contingency Plan together. The DCP reduces the threats associated with Lake Mead and Lake Powell falling to dangerously low levels. In my home state of Arizona, significant harm would ensue for farmers, tribes, cities and people if the water in Lake Mead dips below the 1020 feet threshold. In recent years, we have come dangerously close to that level as drought conditions and increased water use has threatened nearly 40 percent of the State’s annual water demand that comes from Colorado River water supplies. I am very grateful to the CRIT, the GRIC, the Central Arizona Project, the Salt River Project, irrigation districts, industrial water users, as well as other water users in Arizona and the West for uniting together and making significant voluntary contributions in order to allow these historic agreements to move forward. While the DCP may not be perfect in everyone’s eyes, it significantly reduces the threat of severe water shortages for Arizona and Western communities.”

House Natural Resources Committee Republican Leader Rob Bishop (UT-01): “With the states’ work and today’s vote, we have passed a solution that saves a river that serves forty million people, irrigates vast amounts of farmland, and encourages clean, emissions-free hydropower. I thank the Colorado Basin States for their leadership in negotiating and finalizing this plan, and Chairman Grijalva and colleagues in the House for moving quickly on this legislation. It is our hope the Senate will act quickly and send this bill to the president’s desk.”

Executive Vice-Chairman Scott Tipton (CO-03): “I am glad to see an effective strategy produced after years of collaboration between the seven states involved and the federal government. As the location of the headwaters for the river that supplies water to roughly 40 million people, Colorado plays an especially crucial role in the management of our most precious resource. This past winter brought much needed snowpack to the region, but there is no certainty this trend will continue in the coming years and it is important to have a contingency plan in place. Ensuring the Colorado River can meet the demands of all water users who rely on it is a shared responsibility among all Upper and Lower Basin states. The Drought Contingency Plan agreed to by the basin states will help ensure continued hydropower operations and compact compliance, and now each state must work to develop a plan for meeting the obligations of the DCP.”

Chief Budget Officer David Schweikert (AZ-06): “I am pleased to see this Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act passed through the House so we can better support our farmers, tribes, and all water users across Arizona. Even in a year of high rainfall, it is important that users of the Colorado River be responsible with water management, as Arizona has always been. The desert southwest, with our unique geography, is no stranger to drought and severe water conditions. The DCP is a great example of states working together to address extreme water challenges, without the federal government imposing a one size fits all solution.”

Chief Regulatory Reform Officer Andy Biggs (AZ-05): “Sustainability of the Colorado River is critical to maintain Arizona’s rapid growth and its strong agricultural economy. Arizona is in its 21st year of a long-term drought and has been able to sustain itself through this drought through implementation of successful conservation programs and robust collaboration between tribal, community, industry, and government leaders. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan will provide certainty to Arizonans – and to residents from the Colorado River Basin states – as to what their water security will look like for future generations. I thank all the stakeholders from Arizona for their leadership in this states-driven effort.”

Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-42): “The Colorado River is a critical source of water for approximately 19 million people in the southern California region. After 19 years of drought on the Colorado, Lake Mead is near critical levels. Thanks to the tremendous leadership of the seven Colorado River basin states and water users throughout the basin, the worst impacts of drought will be avoided. I applaud the work of Chairman Grijalva and Ranking Member Bishop to shepherd this legislation through the House, and I urge my Senate colleagues to take up this legislation swiftly to protect water supply reliability to southern California.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko (AZ-08): “The Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) is vital to the economic stability and overall future of Arizona. It took a lot of hard work to get this plan to Congress, and I am pleased to see it pass the House of Representatives with such broad bipartisan support. I am proud to support this bipartisan agreement and call on my Senate colleagues to quickly pass this bill so it can be signed into law. Arizonans are depending on it.”

Background:

The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) is a set of voluntary agreements among the 7 basin states (AZ, CA, NV, CO, NM, WY, UT), the U.S. and Mexico to use less Colorado River water. H.R. 2030 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to execute and carryout multiple agreements in relation to the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

H.R. 2030 Cosponsors include Representatives: Mark Amodei (NV-02), Andy Biggs (AZ-05), Rob Bishop (UT-01), Ken Buck (CO-04), Ken Calvert (CA-42), Liz Cheney (WY-At Large), John Curtis (UT-03), Diana DeGette (CO-01), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Paul Gosar (AZ-04), Debra Haaland (NM-01), Steve Horsford (NV-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-02), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Susie Lee (NV-03), Debbie Lesko (AZ-08), Mike Levin (CA-49), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Ben McAdams (UT-04), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Ed Perlmutter (CO-07), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Adam Schiff (CA-28), David Schweikert (AZ-06), Greg Stanton (AZ-09), Chris Stewart (UT-02), Scott Tipton (CO-03) Dina Titus (NV-01), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02).

The DCP will reduce states’ water usage and target minimum water levels for reservoirs in the watershed including Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border and Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. Passage of H.R 2030 provides certainty and assists with ensuring a reliable supply of clean water for farmers, cities, tribes, other water users and future generations in the 7 basin states.

View the different plans codified by the DCP and a letter form the seven States of the Colorado River Basin requesting passage of federal legislation here.

Courtesy of House Committee on Natural Resources Republicans

Over the last century, water demand in the Colorado River Basin has increased while water supply has, on average, decreased. The average annual natural flows in the river are about 14.8 Million Acre-feet (maf). This is a decrease from the early 20th century flows of 18 maf, when many of these apportionments were enacted. The current natural flows no longer keeps up with the demands on the River.

The Colorado River Basin’s success is in large part due to the Basin’s water storage projects. These projects have capacity to store almost 60 maf or about four times the Colorado River’s annual flows. The Basin’s two largest dams are Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell) with a 26.2 maf storage capacity and Hoover Dam (Lake Mead) with 26.1 maf. These storage projects provide a reliable source of water for the Colorado River Basin.

Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has experienced historic drought conditions. The Bureau of Reclamation has taken several actions, including the development of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines, to provide additional operational guiding principle and tools to meet the challenges of the drought.10 In December 2017, due to the continued drought, Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman called on the Basin States to put DCPs in place. Talks on the DCPs had been underway since 2015, but had not made significant progress until then.

The agreements include an Upper Colorado River Basin DCP and a Lower Colorado River Basin DCP. The Upper Basin DCP protects elevations at Glen Canyon Dam by keeping them above 3,525 feet, which is 35 ft above the minimum elevation needed to run the dam’s hydroelectric plan. In addition, it will help assure continued compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact and authorize storage of conserved water in the Upper Basin that could help establish the foundation for a Demand Management Program that may be developed in the future.

Courtesy of Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman

The Colorado River irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland and serves approximately 40 million people in major metropolitan areas across nine states in the United States and Mexico including Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexicali and Tijuana, and a number of tribal reservations.

The Colorado River Basin (Basin) is currently experiencing its worst drought in recorded history. The period from 2000 through 2018 is the driest 19-year period in over 100 years and one of the driest periods in the 1,200-year paleo-record.

Over a decade ago, responding to five years of intense drought, the Department of the Interior (Interior) worked with the Basin States, tribes and other stakeholders in the Basin to adopt operating rules for Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams. These operating rules are known as the 2007 Interim Guidelines and were adopted to better coordinate the operations of Lakes Powell and Lake Mead, encourage water conservation, and to provide objective rules for shortages and reductions of water use in the Lower Basin by Arizona and Nevada.

Since 2007, the drought has persisted and more action, such as combining provisions requiring reduced use of water with new incentives to conserve water, is needed to protect these reservoirs that are essential to our environment and economy.

Following the extremely dry years of 2012 and 2013, when the Colorado River experienced the lowest 2-year runoff period in modern recordkeeping, the seven Colorado River Basin States began pursuing drought contingency plans. In 2014, Reclamation and the Basin States initiated a series of pilot projects to encourage additional, compensated, water conservation. Most recently, the adoption in September 2017 of a new, long-term cooperative agreement with Mexico known as Minute 323 included additional important water conservation and savings actions by Mexico. Some of these water savings actions would only be triggered if the DCPs are completed in the US, which intensified efforts to complete the DCPs in the Upper and Lower Basins.

In December 2017, [Commissioner Burman] called on all seven Basin States and key water districts in the Lower Basin to complete their work on finalizing the drought contingency plans by the end of 2018. During development of the DCPs, the states requested, and received, technical assistance from Interior on such matters as the projected risk facing the basin as a result of long-term drought. Interior is proud to have worked collaboratively with the States, tribes, non-governmental organizations and other Basin stakeholders on the DCPs.

Courtesy of the seven States of the Colorado River Basin 3.19.19 letter

The Colorado River provides water to approximately 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of irrigated agriculture in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada). Since 2000, the Basin has experienced historically dry conditions and combined storage in Lakes Powell and Mead has reached its lowest level since Lake Powell initially began filling in the 1960s. Last year’s runoff into the Colorado River was the second lowest since 2000, and there is no sign that the trend of extended dry conditions will end any time soon even if 2019 provides above average runoff. Lakes Powell and Mead could reach critically low levels as early as 2021 if conditions do not significantly improve. Declining reservoirs threaten water supplies that are essential to the economy, environment, and health of the Southwestern United States.

Working together, the seven Basin States have developed drought contingency plans that are reflected in the agreements attached to this letter. We hereby request passage of federal legislation that would authorize and direct the Secretary of the Interior to sign and implement the agreements upon execution by the non-federal parties.

Federal legislation and subsequent implementation of the agreements will enable prompt action to enhance conservation of Colorado River water and provide us with water management tools necessary to address a looming crisis. These tools will assist us in reducing the probability that Lakes Powell and Mead will decline to critically low elevations.

From The Associated Press via The Denver Post:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming spent years negotiating the drought plan. They aim to keep two key reservoirs from falling so low they cannot deliver water or produce hydropower.

Mexico has promised to store water in Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border if the U.S. legislation is approved by April 22.

State water managers and federal officials have cited a prolonged drought, climate change and increasing demand for the river’s flows as reasons to cut back on water usage. The agreement runs through 2026.

In the lower basin, Arizona and Nevada would keep water in Lake Mead when it falls to certain levels. The cuts eventually would loop in California if Lake Mead’s level drops far enough.

The measure approved Monday reflects language proposed by the states but also includes a section that says the implementation of the drought plan won’t be exempt from federal environmental laws.

The Imperial Irrigation District in California, which holds the largest entitlement to Colorado River water, and environmental groups had raised concern about draft language they took to mean federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act would be disregarded.

From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Multiple representatives from the seven Colorado River Basin states — Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California and New Mexico — spoke on the urgent need for states to implement flexible water savings to ward off possible shortage declarations in the coming years.

In particular, congressional representatives stressed that while this past winter delivered outstanding hydrological conditions in many of the basin states, one good year is not a reason to relax.

“It is not an infinite resource, water, it is a finite resource and we need to treat it that way,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.

Both he and Bishop have been shepherding the bipartisan bill, which authorizes the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation to enact its provisions.

“The water from the Colorado River is not only the lifeblood for farmers and ranchers in eastern Utah, it also supplies drinking water to the rapidly growing Wasatch Front,” said Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah.

“Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead appear to be operating as designed but both are at uncomfortably low levels. Congress needed to act quickly so that the new agreement can be implemented, and water conservation efforts can begin.”

Added Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz.: “The importance of the Colorado River to the West and to my home state cannot be overstated.”

The plans are designed to keep Lake Mead, in particular, from dropping below a level at which shortages would be declared and allow states to embark on water-saving strategies to keep more flows in the river, even as demands grow.